Ags Connolly, from Oxford, released one of the finest country albums of last year with How About Now. Recorded outside of Edinburgh with producer Dean Owens and a fine cast of Scottish musicians (Stuart Nisbett, Kev McGuire, Jim McDermott, Andy May and Roddy Neilson) who sounded as if they were straight off the bus from Austin Texas, the album led to one reviewer calling Connolly “England’s Willie Nelson.” Connolly made his debut appearance in Glasgow last week and was kind enough to meet with Blabber’n’Smoke for a pre show beer and a chat. We started off by asking him about his recent trip to the Ameripolitan Awards in Austin.
Yeah I went out there. I spent ten days in Austin, three days in Albuquerque and I was supposed to spend five days in Nashville but because the weather was so bad flights were delayed so I missed two of the five days I was supposed to be in Nashville and that included the gig I was due to play at the Five Spot. There were loads of people supposed to come down. Will Kimbrough, Luke Bell, Pokey LaFarge and Ryan Koenig. It was a real shame. Flights were cancelled and delayed so it just didn’t happen.
The Ameripolitan Awards in Austin were great; I wrote a review of it for Country Music People. It was a great experience. I’m a recognised Ameripolitan artist but I wasn’t nominated or anything but it was just great to meet people. They didn’t know who I was at first, just the British guy hanging around but by the end of it they did saying “oh, I listened to your music” or whatever. I mean it just gives you sort of extra exposure, you know that networking thing that I’m never really good at but in that environment it was easy to do. I played a gig at the Rattle Inn and James Hand came in to watch the show just after he’d finished playing up the street at The Hole In The Wall. I’d just finished playing my song I Saw James Hand so I had to apologise to the audience and started playing it again. We caught up with each other after the show and we’re looking at ways of getting James over here to do a tour with me.
As for Nashville, well I’ve been to Austin loads of times but never Nashville so I did as much of the touristy bit as I could in the three days I had left, The Ryman Auditorium, The Cash Museum. And I saw the good and the bad side of Broadway, a lot of fairly rubbish covers bands but there are places that still have good traditional stuff and I met some really good people, just a shame I didn’t get to play the gig there.
Did you play in Albuquerque?
I was seeing family I have there, It’s a nice place, somewhat isolated and of course where they filmed Breaking Bad. I didn’t do the official Breaking Bad tour but my brother took me to a few of the places, actually better than the official tour which doesn’t go everywhere. It was pretty cool seeing the actual places but a lot of them are people’s houses so you can’t really hang around. I did one show there with Wildewood, a local band who’ve toured with The Handsome Family. It was a great little gig, held in a place that only opened for the show, opened at 8, closed at 11, but a great night.
And how has the album been doing?
It’s done well, been really well reviewed but as always it could do some more exposure. We’re going to release How About Now as a single in May to see if we can give it another push. It’s been out for about a year now so the next thing is to think about the second album and I’d like to do it up here again at Castlesound in Pentcaitland, the place was so good and all the musicians were so great.
There was a vinyl edition released
Yeah and I’ve got some with me tonight, I don’t always remember to bring them but it’s good to have them at shows because you never know who’s going to turn up and buy one. But it’s a great thing to have, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, that record. It’s all my own thing and there’s a big picture of me on it, beautiful. My mum and dad threw out their record player years ago but my mum bought a record player because I had the vinyl out. It’s a lovely thing to have and that’s why we did it, a lot of people were asking if there was a vinyl edition so we printed up 500 of them.
What got you into country music?
I don’t really know. My dad’s not into country music, I listened to rock as a kid then I got into singer songwriters and that eventually led me to country. Bands like CSNY and the Byrds, I mean I like their albums and I listen to them but they’re not like core influences for me. I preferred writers like Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright III, he’s my favourite songwriter. Some people think Gram Parsons is the essence but for me he’s the beginning, you should branch out and see why he did what he did. I’ve always had this thing where if someone references an artist or covers a song I’ve got to go and check them out. I bought a Hank Williams album before I had a clue what country music was as so many people talked about him as an influence. I loved it, not because it was country but because I really liked simple songwriting, again, like Loudon Wainwright or Ron Sexsmith, people like that and I thought there must be more of this simple songwriting and I found it in country music. It’s the home of it. I don’t mean stuff that’s really easy to write, in fact it’s really difficult to write it and make it sound really simple, that’s the genius of it.
Yeah, Hank Wangford says that when he was a rock’n’roll doctor in the late sixties he treated Gram Parsons who came into his surgery with a George Jones and Tammy Wynette album under his arm. Intrigued Hank listened to Jones and it turned his life around.
Yeah. Funny, I was talking to Hank a few weeks ago, he’s touring small villages, and I was talking to him. I gave him a copy of my album so it’s gone full circle for him from Gram to George to having an Ags Connolly record!
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll be touring with Jack Grelle in September in the UK and I’m really looking forward to that and then we’re hoping then to tour together in the States next year, that will be really cool. Jack tours around all over the States and for someone like me that would be a great experience. We’re also looking at maybe playing some dates in Italy and Croatia if we can set them up.
There seems to be an audience for Americana type music in Italy and Croatia and the like.
Yeah, Dale Watson has played a couple of festivals over there and I’ve got a couple of fans in Croatia actually, I think the internet makes it a lot easier for them to hear things.
Ags tour dates are here including some shows he’s doing with Cale Tyson on 23rd April and 9th May.